CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
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This application claims the benefit of and priority to U.S. Patent Application No. 60/861587 filed on Nov. 28, 2006, the content of which is relied upon and incorporated herein by reference in its entirety.
FIELD OF THE INVENTION
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This invention relates to methods for producing optical fibers along nonlinear pathways during the manufacture of such optical fibers. More particularly, the invention relates to optical fiber production methods incorporating fluid bearings.
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OF THE INVENTION
Conventional techniques and manufacturing processes for producing optical fibers generally include drawing an optical fiber downwardly along a linear pathway through the stages of production. However, this technique provides significant impediments to improving and modifying production of the optical fiber. For example, the equipment associated with linear production of optical fibers is usually aligned in a top to bottom fashion thereby making it difficult to add or modify the process without adding height to the overall system. In some cases, addition to the linear production system requires additional construction to add height to a building housing (e.g., where the draw tower is at or near the ceiling of an existing building). Such impediments cause significant costs in order to provide modifications or updates to optical fiber production systems and facilities.
Providing systems and methods which allow a manufacturer to eliminate the need for linear only systems would significantly reduce costs of implementing modifications or updates. For example, by having a system which stretches horizontally (as opposed or in addition to vertically), it would be much easier and cost effective to provide additional components and equipment to the production system. In addition, such arrangements could provide more efficient process paths to enable the use of lower cost polymers, higher coating speeds and provide for an improved fiber cooling technologies.
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OF THE INVENTION
The present invention is intended to address and obviate problems and shortcomings and otherwise improve the systems and methods for producing optical fibers.
To achieve the foregoing, one embodiment of the present invention includes a method for producing an optical fiber including drawing a bare optical fiber from a preform along a first pathway, contacting the bare optical fiber with a region of fluid cushion of a fluid bearing and redirecting the bare optical fiber along a second pathway as the bare optical fiber is drawn across the region of fluid cushion.
Another aspect of the invention includes a method for producing an optical fiber including drawing an optical fiber along a first pathway, contacting the optical fiber with a region of a fluid bearing, wherein the fluid bearing comprises a first plate having an arcuate outer surface, a second plate having a corresponding arcuate outer surface, wherein the corresponding outer surfaces are substantially aligned and form said region between the corresponding outer surfaces of the first plate and the second plate, wherein the region is configured to receive the optical fiber, and at least one opening passing through at least one of the first plate and the second plate and configured to provide fluid flow through the fluid bearing. The method further includes redirecting the optical fiber along a second pathway as the optical fiber is drawn across the region of fluid cushion.
Another aspect of the invention includes a method for producing an optical fiber including drawing an optical fiber along a first pathway, contacting the optical fiber with a first region of fluid cushion of a first fluid bearing, redirecting the optical fiber along a second pathway as the optical fiber is drawn across the first region of fluid cushion of the first fluid bearing, contacting the optical fiber with a second region of fluid cushion of a second fluid bearing and redirecting the optical fiber along a third pathway as the optical fiber is drawn across the second region of fluid cushion of second first fluid bearing. The method also includes coating the optical fiber with a coating layer.
In any of the aspects of the invention described herein, the fluid bearing preferably may comprise a channel for guiding said fiber as the fiber passes through said fluid bearing. The channel is preferably formed by two parallel or substantially parallel sidewalls which form a passage through which the fiber travels and is redirected. During the fiber draw operation, the fiber is preferably positioned and retained entirely within said channel and between the sidewalls and said cushion of fluid emitted through said channel from one end to the other end of said channel. Typically the fluid enters the channel at a point which is inside the arcuate path formed by the fiber passing through the fluid bearing, and exits the channel from a point which is outside the arcuate path of the fiber. Higher pressure which therefore exists below the fiber on the inside of the arcuate path, relative to the pressure outside the arcuate path formed by the fiber, levitates the fiber. The channel is preferably provided with a means for decreasing pressure inside the arcuate path as the fiber moves outwardly in the channel towards the outer side of the arcuate path. For example, the channel can be provided with a tapered channel such that as the fiber rises within the channel, the pressure below the fiber decreases. In some preferred embodiments, the channel is tapered at an angle and the width of the channel at the fluid inlet is less than the width of the slot at the fluid outlet.
Additional features and advantages of the invention will be set forth in the detailed description which follows, and in part will be readily apparent to those skilled in the art from that description or recognized by practicing the invention as described herein, including the detailed description which follows, the claims, as well as the appended drawings.
It is to be understood that both the foregoing general description and the following detailed description present embodiments of the invention, and are intended to provide an overview or framework for understanding the nature and character of the invention as it is claimed. The accompanying drawings are included to provide a further understanding of the invention, and are incorporated into and constitute a part of this specification. The drawings illustrate various embodiments of the invention, and together with the description serve to explain the principles and operations of the invention.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
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FIG. 1 illustrates an optical fiber production system;
FIG. 2 illustrates an alternative optical fiber production system;
FIG. 3 illustrates an exploded view of a fluid bearing for use in an optical fiber production system;
FIG. 4 illustrates a side plan view of a fluid bearing having a tapered region for an optical fiber production system;
FIG. 5 illustrates an enlarged view of a portion of FIG. 4 of a region of a fluid bearing; and
FIG. 6 depicts a front plan view of a portion of a fluid bearing.
FIG. 7 illustrates a cross sectional view of an alternative fluid bearing design.
FIG. 8 illustrates a cross sectional view of another alternative fluid bearing design.
The embodiments set forth in the drawings are illustrative in nature and not intended to be limiting of the invention defined by the claims. Moreover, individual features of the drawings and the invention will be more fully apparent and understood in view of the detailed description.
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OF THE INVENTION
Reference will now be made in detail to the present preferred embodiment(s) of the invention, an example of which is/are illustrated in the accompanying drawings. Whenever possible, the same reference numerals will be used throughout the drawings to refer to the same or like parts.
The invention provides new systems and methods for producing optical fibers along nonlinear paths through the use of fluid bearings. Embodiments of the present invention are herein described in detail in connection with the drawings of FIGS. 1-6, wherein like numbers indicate the same or corresponding elements throughout the drawings.
The present invention provides systems and methods allowing an optical fiber to be drawn from an initial preform and transported along a nonlinear path. The phrase “bare optical fiber” as used herein means an optical fiber directly drawn from a preform and prior to applying a protective coating layer to its outer surface (e.g., prior to the bare optical fiber being coated with a polymeric based material). The present invention provides flexibility by allowing the optical fiber to be transported along nonlinear pathways through stages of production prior to a protective coating being applied thereto. In addition, as discussed later herein, systems and methods of the invention not only provide nonlinear pathways, but can also assist in processing (e.g., cooling) of the optical fiber during production.
Referring to FIG. 1, an example of the system for producing optical fibers 8 is illustrated. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 1, a preform 10 is placed in a furnace 12 and fiber is drawn therefrom to create a bare optical fiber 14. Preform 10 may be constructed of any glass or material suitable for the manufacture of optical fibers. Once bare optical fiber 14 is drawn from a preform 10 and leaves furnace 12, the bare optical fiber 14 contacts a stationary fluid bearing 16 (discussed later herein) and shifts from moving along a substantially first or vertical pathway (A) to second pathway (B) before traveling to a cooling mechanism 18. As illustrated, second pathway (B) is oriented horizontally or orthogonal to the first path, but it should be understood that systems and methods described herein can redirect an optical fiber along any nonlinear pathway prior to a protective coating being applied thereto.